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Sace serves up a well-stirred brew

Issuer: Optimum Finance

Amount: $650 million

Issue type: Asset-backed floating-rate notes

Launched: January 28 1998

Bookrunner: SBC Warburg Dillon Read

How many firsts can you get into one deal? Last month's $650 million deal, issued through special-purpose vehicle Optimum Finance, was the first capital-markets transaction for the Italian export credit agency Sace (Sezione Speciale

per l'Assicurazione del Credito all'Esportazione).

It was also the first repackaging of sovereign debt into a portfolio and the first time Paris Club debts have been securitized. What's more, by overcollateralizing so that $805 million-worth of debt is included in the pool, bookrunner sbc Warburg Dillon Read and Sace have managed to secure an overall rating of aaa for debts from countries with bbb ratings or lower. The bonds were all sold on the morning of launch, mostly by the bookrunner; only two other banks were involved, Nomura and Creditanstalt, and they were only assigned small chunks.

It's an idea which other banks and issuers have been quick to seize on: several export credit agencies, in and outside Europe, have expressed an interest in similar structures, and jp Morgan and Crédit Commercial de France are set to launch a deal for French export credit agency Coface in February.

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